Neuropsychological studies have shown that patients with Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) perform worse than patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) on tests of conceptualization and verbal fluency, but better on tests of memory and visuospatial functions. However, it is not known if these distinct cognitive profiles are robust enough to be detected using a relatively brief dementia screening instrument such as the Mattis Dementia Rating Scale (MDRS). To address this issue, the MDRS subscale profiles of patients with autopsy-confirmed FTD (n = 17) or AD (n = 34) were compared. Results showed distinct cognitive profiles in which FTD patients performed worse than AD patients on the Initiation/Perseveration and Conceptualization subscales while performing better on the Memory and Construction subscales. The distinct subscale profiles correctly classified 85% of AD patients and 76% of FTD patients. Profiles were maintained in a subset of mildly-to-moderately demented patients (MDRS > or = 105) and correctly classified 89% of these patients. In addition, FTD patients (mean = 30.0 points/year) declined faster than AD patients (mean = 14.8 points/year) on MDRS total and specific subscale scores. These results suggest that the MDRS may be a useful adjunct to other clinical measures for distinguishing FTD from AD and tracking the progression of the disorder.